Boston: Lawyers for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and federal prosecutors sparred on Monday over how much evidence related to his motive and his brother`s role in the attack can be presented in the opening weeks of his trial.
Tsarnaev, 21, faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of killing three people and injuring 264 in the April 15, 2013, attack, and fatally shooting a police officer three days later.
Federal death penalty cases play out in two stages, with a jury first determining whether the defendant is guilty and then considering his sentence. Prosecutors are seeking to stop defense attorneys from arguing during the first stage of the trial that Tsarnaev was not the mastermind of the attack but that his older brother, Tamerlan, was its architect.
Tamerlan, 26, died after a gunbattle with police as the pair were preparing to flee Boston three days after the largest mass-casualty attack on US soil since September 11, 2001.
"The government has known forever that this case is all about sentencing, that this is really what we`re here about," defense attorney David Bruck told US District Judge George O`Toole. "The lead conspirator, the person who started all this and without whom the Boston Marathon bombing would never have occurred, the older brother, is dead ... That presents a problem for the government’s request for the death penalty."
Federal prosecutors contended Tsarnaev`s attorneys would be overreaching by discussing his brother during the guilt phase of the trial, which is due to begin with lawyers for each side giving opening statements on Wednesday.
"What the government is concerned about ... is that the defense will intend to use the liability phase to advance its theories of mitigation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty. "It`s one thing to simply challenge the admissible evidence in the guilt phase of any criminal trial ... but it is another thing entirely to advance an agenda, a didactic agenda of the mitigation theory of the case during that initial liability phase."
O`Toole did not immediately rule on the requests.
On Tuesday, attorneys will make the final cuts from the remaining pool of about 70 qualified jurors to pick the panel of 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the case. O`Toole has said proceedings could last into June.
In a related case, the Council on American-Islamic relations said on Monday that the parents of Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan`s shot and killed by an FBI agent during the investigation of the attack, plan to sue the federal law enforcement agency.
"We are seeking answers and justice for someone who was shot seven times by an FBI agent in his own home after hours of interrogation," said Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director for CAIR Florida.